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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Pervez Musharraf - is he what our community needs?

Around 400 people crammed into the small venue in Walthamstow
Pervez Musharraf looked very dapper and held a commanding presence.

The event was poorly managed but those in attendance seemed overtly focused on unity in Pakistan.

On Sunday 6th February Pervez Musharraf spoke at a political conference for his new "All Pakistan Muslim League" party. It was apparent that he has strong Pakistani Christian support as I discovered on arrival, that Kashan Bennett is now Minorities Wing Coordinator for the group, that Tehskeen from Gateway TV is also a supporter and Gerald Sunny is also part of Musharraf's new team.

It is necessary for Pakistani Christians to align themselves with Political bodies both here and in Pakistan, as it will eventually empower our community. However, suffice to say I was not convinced of any real gain by our Christian family at the meeting held on Sunday.

Whilst queuing outside the venue Atiq, Juliet and I were greeted by the vitriolic and malevolent caterwauling of the 30 or so extremists protesters, on the opposite side of the street. Their rallying cry was one of anger against a man who they felt had betrayed Islam. I felt obliged to ask one of the number why they felt this was so? I soon thought better of it when I noticed the intense anger and hatred emanating from the glowering eyes directed towards conference visitors.

The queue for the event had a simplistic structure in that the usual south Asian free for all was encouraged, much due to the lack of any supervision from the organisers. In the mad rush that followed, men were squeezing themselves against women and Juliet felt obliged to leave the queue. In a fit of rage, I called for women and children to be prioritised for entry. Some men moved out of the way other rather less salubrious individuals continued to push their way into the hall. Atiq spoke to the security staff who eventually made a decision to allow the women and children through first, denying access to the men until this process was complete.

Once the women had entered, The press and surge for entry reduced this after I relayed to the crowd that security had confirmed space was available and no-one would be turned away. Obviously I had to relay this using my loud voice to penetrate deep into the conscious of the men consumed with a passion to meet their beloved Quaid (a term frequently used by Gerald Sunny and other speakers about the munificent and beneficent Musharraf).

An encouraging aspect of the programme was the fact that Gerald Sunny was allowed to speak at the event. Gerald is a well know Christian brother, however his highly politicised speech that rattled on about the high moral status and impeccable standing of Mr Musharraf, did not ring true with me. Gerald was joined by a cacophony of other sycophants that equally pledged allegiance to a man of who they proclaimed had an unblemished record (despite the fact that he was a military dictator who had usurped authority under a military coup?).

The event started at 14:00 and by 16:43 Musharraf finally arrived. Call me sceptical, but recognising the implications of Asian timing I arrived with Atiq and Juliet sometime around 15:00. The mass of speakers that spoke on the stage had nothing of particular interest, or remotely stimulating, to say.... Tired of the praise and platitudes heaped on General Musharraf we all left at around 17:00 before the great man could speak himself, unable to cope with the reverberating similar extolling of other men seeking position - you can only say so many good things about one man. This turned out to be a very timely departure as we have since heard, that a shoe was thrown at Musharraf. This does not surprise me, as I was standing next to the group of men that were discussing the dastardly act and was shocked at the reticence shown, when informing security. I am glad we did not get involved in the chaos that ensues after incidents such as these, as my wife is of a weaker disposition.

The event was one that was disorganised and chaotic. The speakers droned on about the potential for progressive change in Pakistan - that only Musharraf was strong enough to complete. Yet we are aware of his promise to reform the Blasphemy Law that came to nothing?
The fact of the matter is that despite the talk from Gerald Sunny on the raised platform - no Christian, not even the Minority Wing Coordinator Kashan Bennett was on stage when Musharraf arrived. How can such an important role in the current political climate of Pakistan be ignored, by a party, with an honest focus on cultural and political reform? Moreover, why was the event filled with Islamic religious song (Naat) and poems?
If this is a party for all people then why does it incorporate Muslim in it's title? In Britain people of all diversities enjoy religious and political freedoms, parties with a religious persuasion gain little support and much of this is due to a common sense of fairness and equality. Imagine a Labour Party conference with a worship service before the event began...

I am not convinced by the APML propaganda, I am actually concerned about the listed overtures that fly in the face of what this party proclaims it will be for those in Pakistan.
The BPCA is challenging for the removal of the words "Islamic Republic of" from the Constitution of Pakistan, we are calling for Pakistan to have no state religion and for people of all faiths to have equal constitutional status, eventually permitting them to stand for President of the country. This is why we find it hard to swallow, when a new political party formed by a former President aware of the inequalities in Pakistan, chooses to place Muslim in the title of his group....?
I am concerned that our Christian brethren joining political parties do not speak openly about the need for party political reform. Why not oppose the faith terminologies in party names, why not encourage the removal of the platitudes and praise that dominate these meetings and just focus on the political matters? Why not have speakers talking about the manifesto of the party, the economic programmes that would be introduced by APML, any educational reform pledges or other topics that really matter?
Political parties should not base their propaganda on an individual but on strong party pledges. Imagine if at a Conservative Party conference 40 different speakers eulogised David Cameron, before he gave a 15 minute address on what he believed he would do for the country? There would be uproar politics has a very different shape in the UK - perhaps some of the old school politicians in Pakistan should attend our leading political party conferences for a more reasoned approach to holding one of their own?

The BPCA is not supportive of any political party in Pakistan, nor do any of our membership hold any allegiance to such groups. However, we will endeavour to speak to leaders from all the parties in Pakistan to promote a fairer society and to obtain a comparative list of what each party is offering our communities in Pakistan. We have asked Tehskeen and Kashan to arrange a meeting with Former President Musharraf and will inform you of progress. I find it only fair and proper to describe some of the positive outcomes of Sunday's event:

Firstly, whilst outside in the ensuing melee of the crowd crush and the extremist faction shouting vitriolic curses on Musharraf, it was a pleasant to hear members of the majority Muslim's, gaining entry in the hall, responding by shouting "Pakistan Zindabad" (Long Live Pakistan). The inference here was one of unity with all people and a strong sense of opposition to extremist views.

Secondly, when Gerald spoke Muslim people spoke openly about the need to work with minorities and the need for a fairer society. They encouraged Gerald and that was heart warming.

Finally, 4 new Christian members if you include Arish Javaid Chowdhry in the list of Christian sympathisers with APML, means that a voice exists. If they would just be strong enough to speak of the change we need to see for justice, equality and peace to prevail, then maybe this party might alter some of the less suitable directions it has taken.
I cannot comment on the speech from Musharraf as we had already left. However, despite some of the errors in forming this party (a religious title and the logistical and practical organisation of the event), he has in history proven to be a man focused on equality and progression.

On a leaving note you will notice in the close up pictures the white suited man on the stage. This gentleman is obviously involved as a close protection officer (always alert and observing), yet if he had provided suitable advice he would have ensured that a number of plain clothed observers of Asian origin where in communication with him. If he had, who knows, he might have been able to deter the shoe attack.
As a security consultant I was shocked at the awful performance of the Security team with out the appropriate licensing, uniforms, competency or general manner for the role that they were undertaking. The crowd crush - that could have simply been resolved with 8 crowd control barriers - might have caused a major incident. Hopefully the organisers will have learnt something from this experience.

1 comment:

  1. It is very nice to know that you are related to Bishop John Joseph. Is your mother from Khushpur ? My father in law knew him well as he used to represent the Church of Pakistan at a lot of meetings in Punjab so had to work with all the Christian Bishops/leaders. In 1998 Pakistani Christians lost one of their most able (and as you rightly pointed out) uncorrupted leaders, I have not seen anybody else of his stature and bravery.No wonder Christians have not made any progress since then. Have you seen the film made about Bishop John Joseph (produced for the NCJP back in 2001) ? I was asked to do the commentary for the English language version (being one of the few native English speakers in Lahore at that time) but unfortunately was out of town when the film was being edited.
    I have a collection of Bishop John Joseph's speeches which are also inspiring. A friend of my in-laws (Gulzar Wafa Chaudhry, your family might have known him when he was alive) wrote a biography of the Bishop.

    I just read your article on the meeting with the UK branch of General Musharraf's new party. I lived in Lahore when he came to power (I remember the evening of the army takover as I was in a clinic with my newborn son) and back in 1999 people were very happy to see the back of the dreadful Sharif's (what short memories people have in Punjab today !). The first couple of years of his rule were really quite refreshing when compared to the extremely corrupt PPP and PML periods of misrule but he made the mistake of trying to cling to power. On a personal level I like him very much, he is modern and secular in outlook

    (inspired by the years he lived with his family in Turkey) and does not originate from one of the Pakistani provinces so is more national in outlook.
    However I really am not convinced that his new party (there are already four or five other 'Muslim Leagues' operating in Pakistan) can contribute to Pakistan and as for Christians joining the 'minorities wing' (sounds very patronising !!) of his party are they not aware that he has publicly stated that the blasphemy law should not be changed ? Unfortunately Musharraf has become as opportunistic as any other Pakistani politician playing the religion card. Back in 2000 it was a different story as he genuinely tried to reform the procedure for registering blasphemy cases but backed off due to Mullah pressure. Pity he didn't stick to his guns then, might have been the start of positive reform.....Your report captured the atmosphere of these kind of 'fawning' meetings with Pakistani politicians very well. I am amazed that Pakistani Christians in the UK would waste their time.........